Sub-theme 26: Control, Materiality and Practices

François-Xavier de Vaujany
Université Paris-Dauphine, France
Emmanuelle Vaast
McGill University, Montréal, Canada
Andrew Pickering
University of Exeter, UK

Call for Papers

Control devices and surveillance are (becoming) increasingly pervasive in our daily life as part of organizations, markets, and society in general (Bauman & Lyon, 2013). The emergence of major [perceived] risks and threats (systemic risks, terrorism, e-rumours likely to spread very quickly, potential misbehaviours on financial markets, …) has favoured the evolution, development, and structuration of numerous [management] control and risk management practices. Architecture, digital technologies, urbanism and space, and numerous material practices are thus expected to regulate and control people and things. However, sometimes, results are quite disappointing. Organizations (re-)discover that more set of rules means more gaming with the rules and consequently more uncertainty (Crozier & Friedberg, 1980, p. 101). This is a strange but important paradox which has serious consequences and implications for our daily life. In the context of this sub-theme, we want to understand the mechanisms, mediations, and sociomaterial practices related to control and surveillance in our world. We invite philosophical, sociological and historical discussions about control, materiality and practices.

Philosophical questions can relate to the question of the 'why'. Why did we reach that point? Has moral delegations to objects increased overtime (i.e., are we delegating more and more control and doubts to material devices)? Why do we do this? Is it the right way to describe the (emerging) state of affairs? Historical analysis, e.g. the emergence of new semiosis from the post-world war II period may be one possible way to explore this (Pickering, 2002; 2010). Pragmatism, phenomenology, hermeneutics, critical realism, philosophies of practice, Foucaldian or other philosophical perspectives are also welcome to explore this question.

Sociological accounts, in particular those grounded in Science and Technology Studies (STS), are welcome as well (maybe addressing the 'how' question). How do sociomaterial practices of control and regulation emerge in organizations, markets, and societies? What about the material and spatial underpinnings of control and regulation? What is the possible specificity of the control produced, relayed and enacted by digital devices? What about the 'inform(at)ing' power (Zuboff, 1988) of contemporary social media? How do space and spatial practices contribute to control? What about power games in the dynamic? What about the legitimacy of control devices?

The sub-theme could thus cover the following topics (not exhaustive list):

  • The philosophical, historical and sociological roots of societal and organizational control
  • The sociomaterial underpinnings of control and regulation [with]in organization[s] and organizing
  • The spatial dimensions of organizational control and surveillance
  • The cybernetic, post-Macy legacy for semiotic and control
  • The ontologies of moral delegations
  • The new digital foundations of control




  • Bauman, Z., & Lyon, D. (2013): Liquid Surveillance: A Conversation. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  • Crozier, M., & Friedberg, E. (1980): Actors and Systems. The Politics of Collective Action. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Dale, K., & Burrell, G. (2008): The Spaces of Organization and the Organisation of Space. Power, Identity and Materiality at Work. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • de Vaujany, F.-X., Mitev, N., Lanzara, G.F., & Mukherjee, A. (eds.). (2015): Materiality, Rules and Regulations. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Foucault, M. (1977): Discipline & Punish. The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books.
  • Hayles, N.K. (2008): How We Became Posthuman. Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Orlikowski, W. J. (2007): "Sociomaterial Practices: Exploring Technology at Work." Organization Studies, 28 (9), 1435–1448.
  • Pickering, A. (2002): "Cybernetics and the Mangle Ashby, Beer and Pask." Social Studies of Science, 32 (3), 413–437.
  • Pickering, A. (2010): The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Zuboff, S. (1988): In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power. New York: Basic Books.


François-Xavier de Vaujany is Professor of Management at Université Paris-Dauphine, France. His research deals with organizations and organizing in the context of digital technologies and new material settings or spaces often related to them (i.e. mobility, co-working spaces, telework, open spaces, digital transformations).
Emmanuelle Vaast is Associate Professor at the Desautels Faculty of Management of McGill University, Montréal, Canada. Her research examines how social practices emerge and change with the implementation and use of new technologies and how these new practices are associated with organizational and change dynamics.
Andrew Pickering is Professor at the University of Exeter, UK. He is internationally known as a leader in the field of science and technology studies. He has authored several books and edited several collections of research essays. Andrew's current research focusses on art, agency, the environment and traditional Chinese philosophy.